THE ENGLISH BIBLE: ITS REVISION, TRANSLATION, AND HISTORY, article in The Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record 1862
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A Glorious old book is the English Bible. As a nation we owe to its possession and free circulation no small measure of that intelligence, manliness, and liberty by which we are distinguished. If we had no other cause to honour it there would still remain this, the enormous influence it has had upon the life and institutions of our country. This influence has been at work for many centuries, and is probably now as powerful as ever. It is not the mere influence of a national religion, nor of a well organized and accomplished priesthood. These could act upon us and modify our character and politics apart from a vernacular version of the Bible. Rites and ceremonies, formularies and church institutions, even when connected with a wise and zealous clergy, could never do all that is done where the Bible is in the language and the homes of the people. They can be had recourse to with more or less frequency, but in this book we have a perpetual instructor and monitor. They may be reverenced and trusted, but this is accepted as the law of God, the statute book of which they are but exponents and executors. Just as men may have great respect for Blackstone, Coke, or Littleton, but reverence yet more the very laws which they explained and commented on; so is it with the feeling cherished towards the Bible as compared with its interpreters. As men honour the magistrates and governors, only so far as they accord with the statutes of the realm, so they honour the clergy and all ecclesiastical institutions, only so far as they interpret aright the teachings of the Bible. A government whose laws are secret cannot stand so firm, nor be so sure of the people's affection, as that in which every law may be known by every subject. The wide dissemination of the laws of God among us, is productive of two immense advantages; a salutary restraint is exercised upon those spiritual guides who might be disposed to innovate, and the people are in possession of that which can at all times regulate their course and their opinions. The disadvantages which result from this popular circulation of the book cannot be avoided, as human nature is constituted. Self-conceited and ignorant men will pervert and misunderstand the volume; and hence arise minor controversies, delusions, schisms, and sects. But these disadvantages are more than counterbalanced by the beneficial effects upon the character and conduct and religious life of the nation.
The principle of a Bible "without note or comment," is regarded by some with strong approval, and by others with equal disapproval. In the Romish Church there is express provision made against versions in the vernacular without note or comment. The early editions of Luther and other translators were usually accompanied by notes. Our own country was no exception to the rule, and it continued in operation at least till the production of our authorized translation. In judging of this question, we should distinguish between doctrinal expositions and notes designed to inform the reader of the meaning of allusions which cannot be understood without some knowledge of geography, history, ancient customs, weights, measures, money, and so forth. Doctrinal expositions are commentaries, and if judiciously introduced may materially instruct the reader. No evil whatever can come from the other class of notes when they are accurately prepared. Nor is it to be supposed that observations of a practical and devotional character, either supersede the work of the minister of God's word, or do harm in any other way. Common readers are assisted by all these things, and there is no prima facie objection to them. The only ground upon which Bibles without note or comment can be exclusively circulated, is that of a society composed of Christians whose personal views differ, and who therefore find it convenient to avoid discussion, by adopting such a law. As a matter of fact, commentaries and books explaining and illustrating the Scriptures are universally popular, except among that small minority who think the Spirit of God will teach them all they ought to know. Even these, however, do not dispense with the living commentator, and when they preach about "the Christian race," or the "cloud of witnesses," they find it useful to describe the peculiarities of the Grecian games. To do this, they rely, not upon the illumination of the Spirit, but upon books.
Another question of some importance is, whether the apocryphal books should be bound up with the Bible? The English Church adopts the canon of the first three centuries, and declares it to be complete. The Sixth Article explicitly limits the term, Holy Scripture, to these books, "In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church." The Apocrypha are called "the other books," which "the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners, but yet it doth not apply them to establish any doctrine." This is explicit enough and so far settles the question. In the judgment of the compilers and framers of the Thirty-nine Articles, the Apocrypha were not Holy Scripture; for example of life and instruction of manners they are read, and not to establish any doctrine. They are doubtless of more value than has generally been admitted, and their intelligent perusal would be beyond all question profitable, but they are separated from the rest by this sweeping negation of their claim to be Holy Scriptures; this negation implies all the difference between divine and human, inspired and uninspired. Valuable then as in some respects these books are, no one can rightly demand for them a place in the English Bible, or say that his Bible is incomplete without them. The only question seems to be one of expediency: is it expedient to attach the apocryphal books to Bibles for popular use? These books contain most important religious and moral precepts, as well as very useful historical facts, and statements which illustrate some portions of Holy Scripture; but then, their ethics and their religious teachings are sometimes questionable, and their records are sometimes inaccurate. They teach some doctrines not in the canonical books, and some say opposed to them. Here then we have intermingled good and evil, and it would seem, therefore, that if we are to connect the Apocrypha with Holy Scripture, it should not be without note or comment in some form or other. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge publishes the Apocrypha in a separate form, with an extract from the Sixth Article prefixed, so that all may know their use, and here at least exercise the right of private judgment. It might be thought the adoption of certain proper lessons from the Apocrypha is a contravention of the Sixth Article; but others might regard this circumstance as merely an illustration of its meaning and a practical commentary upon it. We heartily wish that this question of the value and place of the Apocrypha in the English Church, and in relation to the canon, was thoroughly investigated. There seems not much hope of this, for the prejudice of some is at least as blind as the admiration of others, and the indifference of more. The opponents of the Apocrypha will always have literary, theological, and historical arguments in their favour, which it will he difficult to answer. The defenders of the Apocrypha must mainly rely upon other grounds.
The value of a vernacular version, freely circulated among a people, is proved by the experience of the last three centuries in this country and in Germany. A strong argument for it is to be found in the state of those nations who have not had this privilege, nor that other privilege by which it has been accompanied; viz., of having that same version made the basis of the teachings of the clergy, and of the formularies of the Church. In France, Italy, and Spain, for example, the free reading of the vernacular Bible is interdicted by the clergy, if not by the state. The Latin Vulgate is used in the public services with small profit to the audience. Preaching is much more rare than with us. The Vulgate supplies texts and illustrations when preaching takes place, and even when the quotations are translated, they are often strangely misapplied, and there is no check upon the priesthood. Something must be deficient when the words, _Ite ad Joseph_ ("go to Joseph," Gen. xli. 55) are made the text of a sermon enforcing the duty of the invocation of Joseph the carpenter, the husband of the Blessed Virgin. With an open Bible such things would scarcely be possible. The influence of an open Bible in checking superstition and credulity, in promoting living godliness and genuine morality, in giving instruction, and in affording consolation, is so apparent among us that we cannot wish to go back to the days when it was shut up in Latin and confined to the clergy.
There is another point on which we wish to say a few words, and that is the question of revision; and let us premise that there is nothing to oppose revision either on the face of the matter or on the ground of precedent. Not on the face of the matter certainly, because it is a version with which we have to do, and the more perfect it can be made, that is, the more accurately it can be made to represent the original, the better. Nor does precedent stand in the way, for as a matter of fact our version has been several times retouched in at least three ways, as we have verified by a collation of copies; 1. The spelling of words has undergone revision, although some old forms as morter and sope still remain; 2. The words printed in italics have from time to time been altered; 3. Cases occur in which obsolete words have been substituted by others more modern. Besides, our present version was itself based upon its predecessors. Any one who will be at the pains to compare a few sentences in the versions of Tyndale, the Genevan exiles, and King James's translators, will see this at a glance. The English version of the Bible truly dates back from the time of Henry VIII., and all its forms subsequent to the first have been substantially revisions of that first. [Thus Anderson in his list of Bibles, under the head of' Thomas Matthew's' Bible of 1537, calls it ' the basis of all subsequent editions.' A similar opinion is expressed by Chester in his recent life of Rogers the martyr; and, indeed, the fact is notorious.]
There are, however, three things which the advocates of revision are able to plead as positive reasons for their opinion:— I. The changes our language has undergone since 1611. This cannot be denied, and is so obvious, that any one who used the entire Biblical vocabulary, and confined himself to its grammatical forms, would be rightly regarded as always quaint and sometimes obscure; for our grammar, our vocabulary, and the meaning of words, have changed during the last 250 years. II. Modern researches in philology and other departments of science have thrown fresh light upon the meaning of many Greek and Hebrew words which at the time our version was executed, were misunderstood. No one who is at all acquainted with the present condition of Biblical science and criticism, will for an instant question the possibility of improving our excellent translation, and of making it more faithfully represent the original. III. What Dr. Tregelles has called "comparative criticism," has served to purify the Greek and Hebrew texts. Venerable MSS. have been discovered and collated, and critical editions have been prepared with their assistance and that of ancient fathers and versions; so that we have an unquestionably more accurate text than is represented by the authorized translation. We know that text to be incorrect in a variety of details, some of which are important, and therefore ought to be remedied, for we are not justified in setting forth as God's word any of man's errors and additions Especially in the New Testament, and above all in the Gospels and the Apocalypse, is this reformation called for.
Such is a glance at the state of the case; summarily that the canon is not in need of revision, but that the translation is. Not the canon, because old writers like W. Whittaker, and Bishop Cosins, and some modern ones, have shewn as clearly as the Sixth Article shews, that the Apocrypha are not canonical. With regard to the Old and New Testament antilegomena, as James and 2 Peter, Solomon's Song and the Book of Esther, the question has not assumed such serious proportions as to justify its solemn discussion in this business of a better version. With regard to the several pleas for a revision, we have seen that they are really four,—precedent, changes of language, inaccurate renderings and a corrupt text. To these we add a fifth,—the desire which has been expressed for it by learned men during more than two hundred years. Among these we may name Dr. Gell, in 1659, Boyle, Cowley, Bishop Hutchinson, Howell, Kennicott, Blackmore, Lewis, Locke, Brett, Grey, etc. Their name is legion, and surely some respect should be paid to their opinion. It is true that the substantial integrity of the work remains unimpeached, but its casual defects are not denied. With regard to the subject of various readings, it is of no use to mince the matter; our Authorized Version is based upon a text which is known to be very defective. Not only is it at variance with the great uncial manuscripts in isolated words, but in whole sentences and paragraphs. The labours of Mill and Wetstein, Bengel and Sabaterius, of Bentley, Griesbach, Lachmann, Scholz, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Scrivener, and many more, ought not to be ignored, and are not ignored by educated readers. Look at the text of the Revelation as given us, we may say, by Erasmus; it abounds in positive errors, some of which are due to Erasmus' own imagination, and have no manuscript authority whatever. Compare with it the texts represented by Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Kelly. No one can defend it as it now stands. Thanks to the efforts of the learned, scholars need not now be led astray. But the people have no means of discerning truth from error, and critical observations in the pulpit seem out of place and may do harm. As for the Old Testament, the works of Kennicott and De Rossi, and the more recent publications of Dr. Davidson and of continental critics, leave no room for doubt.
Another consideration which ought to have some weight is, the number of new translations of the whole, or of parts of the Scriptures, which have been published. Locke and Macknight, Doddridge, Newcome and Harwood, Boothroyd and Campbell, all tried their hand at this. To these may be added, the American Sawyer, Mr. Sharpe, and Dr. Benisch. To reckon them all, from Bishop Lowth to Mr. Kelly, would be to give a list of scores of names of more or less eminence. Of some of these versions and revisions, large impressions and sundry editions have been sold. To shew the popular feeling upon the subject, it may suffice to refer to the very imperfect revision of Dr. Conquest, of which thousands were disposed of. The work was worthless in a critical point of view, but there was a large demand for something which this professed to be, and was not. Dr. Boothroyd's version is still widely circulated; and the same is true of others. The New Testament of Mr. Sharpe, who declares himself a Unitarian, has reached a fourth edition; and not altogether without reason. It has its defects. It is from the text of Griesbach, which is now admitted to be less accurate than some more recent ones. It exhibits renderings which indicate a doctrinal bias. But it is nevertheless, in the main, an honest and an intelligible work, with the advantage of a better arrangement than our own. Many of its renderings also are unquestionably superior to those of the Authorized Version. Its mingled character, and its insufficient text, will prevent its general adoption, but will not prevent it from being extensively read. Were it not for the liberties it takes in particular instances, it would be a still more valuable book than it is. In any case, it is infinitely preferable to the miserable dilution which the Unitarians published in 1808 as an "improved version," but which even they would not now defend or rely upon.
We have heard of a new translation by Mr. Robert Young, of Edinburgh, but if we are to judge of this by the Book of Job which appeared in this Journal last July, his version will give rise to plenty of controversy. His grammatical and lexicographical principles alike challenge discussion by their novel, we will not say arbitrary, character. He boldly lays down rules and adopts interpretations which defy all the disciples of Gesenius, Ewald, Fiirst, and others, who, however much they differ from one another, agree in certain fundamental matters. He manifestly does not hold himself bound to follow the masoretic punctuation, or he would never render Genesis i. 1:—"In the beginning of God's framing the heavens and the earth." Let us look at this for a moment: bereshith is translated "in the beginning of," and hence the word is looked upon as a noun in the construct case with a preposition. Now it cannot be denied that reshith is used as a noun in the nominative; the form therefore does not prove it a construct. In the second place, a noun with the prefix a is often equivalent to an adverb, and as such may be translated. If Mr. Young had taken bereshith as an adverb in the sense of primarily, we should not have objected; and it would have been justifiable. But he makes it a noun construct to bring it in into agreement with bara, or, as he rejects the points, bore. Here is a second error, for bara is a verb and not a participle. This is not all; he has to invert the order and invent an unheard-of structure, by bringing the word Elohim between two words connected as he connects bereshith and bara. Nay, more, the word God he is compelled to turn into a possessive God's! If the Bible is to be translated anew after this fashion, we had better adhere to our old version, which is based on principles that have always been recognized. Let Mr. Young take warning, and before it is too late, extricate himself from the snare in which the love of novelty and originality may involve him. If he does not take warning, he will stand a chance of becoming identified with those who have an ill reputation in the Church, for unwarrantable liberties taken with the Word of God. The pursuit of novelty and originality is a bane and a curse to a translator, and inevitably brings dishonour and shame upon him. We do not want either novelty or originality. We do not ask discoverers and theorists to translate the Bible. Heaven knows we have had enough of them already. Quackery and charlatanism are bad enough anywhere, but nowhere so bad as here. It is monstrous to expect perfection in any one, but it is equally monstrous to believe that the versions from the days of the LXX. to our own have been all so wrong that we must have a new patent method. A man may be a clever linguist and not a philologian, and even a good philologian may make a miserable translation, because he does not know what is wanted. With regard to Mr. Young, he is said to be a linguist, but it is evident he is not a philologist, and so far as we can judge from the specimens which we have seen, he has wasted a great deal of valuable time, and excited hopes which will never be realized.
We come now to Dr. Benisch. He is a Jew, and his version is for Jews. He has devoted a dozen years to his translation, and has not only wisely taken our own as a basis, but has availed himself of modern scholarship. He is a sound, judicious and ripe scholar himself. The only fault we have to find with him is, that he is too much bound by the traditions of the fathers, and that his desire to be literal has made him too much neglect the graces and amenities of language. But there is no nonsense in the book; no striving after that novelty and originality which we so much deprecate; no feeling ashamed or too proud to adopt translations which he finds approved by others. There is, moreover, a constant and overruling sense of the importance of his work, and of the Word which he translates; and this makes him always grave, and keeps him from speculation. He has no new principles of grammar or of lexicography, and is content to take the language as he finds it. His one aim has been to make the Hebrew speak English. He follows the divisions and arrangement of ordinary editions of the Bible in Hebrew, by which the indications of verses are thrown into the margin, and the text is only divided into chapters and paragraphs. Where he thinks the force of a Hebrew word is not expressed by one English word he uses two. The employment of italics is had recourse to even where they do not seem absolutely necessary. Thus he says, "God called the dry land earth;" albeit, it is highly probable that the Hebrew word translated "dry," means all that the English compound expresses. His love of literality at the expense of graceful English is seen in such an expression as "The earth shall sprout forth sprouts," Gen. i. 11. In the rendering of Messianic passages he sometimes coincides, but not always, with Christian translators. Thus, in Gen. xlix. 10, he translates, "The rod shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and his be the obedience of peoples." Psalm ii. 12, he renders, "Kiss a pure one lest he be angry and ye wander from the way, for his wrath easily burneth. O happiness of them that trust in him." This rendering is rather feeble. We notice too that in the book of Daniel and some other places, the translator seems to have been embarassed by his doctrinal opinions. Nevertheless, there is much that is excellent in this version, and it is generally so fair and accurate, that it deserves to be studied by Christian expositors. It will shew them at least, how an orthodox and learned Jew understands the text of the Old Testament. There are many who have great faith in Jewish translations of particular passages, and often without sufficient cause. It does not follow that because a man is a Jew, he must understand Hebrew better than anybody else. The reason that Jews know Hebrew better than we, or more generally, is because they realize its importance more, and give more time to its study and perusal.
What we would say of Dr. Benisch's work is simply this; that intelligent Christians would do well to compare it with their own Authorized Version; and that in any revision it ought to be consulted. We often differ from it; but the number of its happy renderings, so far as the sense is concerned, makes us highly prize it.
Having said so much about revision and translation we might be expected to call attention to such works as may be considered provisional; but as we want to speak of the work of Mr. Anderson, we will only say what we mean by "provisional" works. 1. Such as contain a translation and summary of those various readings which affect the sense of the Authorized Version. 2. Such as contain the common translation attended by critical emendations of it in the margin. 3. Such as contain the common version arranged by paragraphs and parallelisms, with or without a new distribution of books. Mr. Blackader's English Bible is an ingenious attempt to combine the advantages of these three methods. A little book by Mr. C. E. Stewart illustrates the first, and the paragraph Bibles of the Tract Society illustrate the third. Those which come under the second head are more numerous.
The history of the English Bible is scattered among the pages of many books, and to collect and arrange the details worthily would require immense labour. Most of the ecclesiastical historians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have more or less to say upon the subject; but we are not aware of any professed history of the translations before that of John Lewis, early in the last century. Nor does there seem to have been any important attempt to prepare a list of editions till a recent period. The oldest list of any consequence with which we are acquainted is that in the Catalogus Universalis Librorum, etc., published and compiled by John Hartley, an industrious bibliopole, in Holborn, in 1701. In our own time the labours of Cotton and Lee Wilson, and the collections of George Offor and others have added very much to our knowledge of the subject. The lives of Wycliffe, Tyndale, Frith, Rogers and others of the Reformers have also helped us. But perhaps no man has done so much as Mr. Anderson in the Annals of the English Bible, which first came out in 1845, and now appears in a second edition after the author's death. On the other side of the Atlantic Mrs. Conant has written a History of the English Bible, which has been republished here under the auspices of no less known a man than the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon. We so far agree with Mr. Spurgeon as not to object to his calling it "an excellent book." It contains much that is accurate and important; but after all, it is not to be compared with the more elaborate and original work of Mr. Anderson. Neither of them is perfect; but they are both useful, and especially the larger one. Mr. Anderson gives us an account of Wycliffe's version; but his history properly commences with the reign of Henry VIII. He records at length the labours of Tyndale and his coadjutors, and the varied fortunes of their editions. Frith, Coverdale, Rogers and others, also have their due share of attention; and we feel that the four hundred pages devoted to this period are among the most precious chapters of our national ecclesiastical history. During the reign of Henry editions of the whole or of parts of the Bible in English appeared to the number of at least fiftyfour. The edition which we have already named as the basis of all that have succeeded, was published in 1531, and is known as Thomas Matthew's Bible, the first authorized English version, the joint production of Tyndale and Rogers, who were more or less indebted to Coverdale and Frith. The first portion of the Old Testament printed was the book of Jonah, which Mr. Anderson ascribes to 1531, translated by Tyndale, and of which a copy has been recently brought to light. The first edition of the whole Bible was that of Coverdale in 1535. The first edition of any part of the Scriptures in English printed in this country, was the New Testament of Tyndale in 1536. Various versions and revisions are included among the fifty-four editions of Henry's reign, and extend over twenty years.
The brief reign of Edward VI. produced forty-nine editions, viz., thirty-five of the New Testament, and fourteen of the Bible, against the thirty-nine of the New Testament and fifteen of the Bible in Henry's time. These editions all appeared in the space of six years and a half. Only about twenty-four of the editions under Henry were printed in England, whereas almost all those of Edward's time were printed in England. During this reign far more attention was given to the printing and circulation of the Bible than to its translation and revision. This is just what might have been expected. The Scriptures had been translated, and now they were to be circulated, read, and expounded.
In the reign of Mary all this activity was suppressed at home, and not a single copy of the Scriptures was printed in this country so long as she occupied the throne. There was an edition of the New Testament printed at Geneva in the translation of William Whittingham, a protestant exile. This appeared in 1557, and found its way to England in spite of the barriers which the popish zeal of the government interposed. Several copies of this edition are known; and it has the honour of being the first with the verses distinguished. It is called Whittingham's version, but was really a revision of Tyndale's. At that very time, however, a new version was undertaken by the Marian exiles.
Elizabeth succeeded to the throne in 1558, and in 1560 appeared the version commonly known as the Genevan translation. Two editions of it were printed in that year, and both of them at Geneva. This Bible was accompanied with marginal annotations, etc., and was the standard book for fifty years, or till it was superseded by the present Authorized Version. During Elizabeth's reign a hundred and forty-two editions are recorded, viz., forty-eight of the New Testament, and ninety-four of the Bible. Most of these were printed in this country, and the great majority of them were in the Genevan version. To previous texts was added a revision of the Genevan New Testament executed by Laurence Tomson, and often printed. From 1576, onward for many years, the monopoly of printing Bibles was in the hands of Christopher Barker and his heirs.
In the reign of James I. steps were taken to execute a new translation; and in 1611 appeared our present Authorized Version "newly translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised, by His Majesty's special commandment." Of the origin and production of this happily well known book Mr. Anderson gives an interesting and satisfactory account. The remaining portions of his volume relate to Scotland from James V. to the Commonwealth; to Great Britain from the Commonwealth to Queen Victoria; to North America from James I. to George III.; and to more recent times. We cannot, however, pursue this history. It is enough to observe that the tide of editions has been flowing on with increasing power, and that at this moment probably one half of the Bibles in the world are in the English tongue and of the Authorized Version. This is a great fact, and one which will suggest its proper lessons to wise and thoughtful men.
Mr. Anderson's book has afforded us much pleasure and instruction. The new edition is in one volume instead of two as before, and it omits much that was contained in the former edition, but only what belongs to the general history of the times. It contains all that relates to the Bible, and all the illustrations. No one can take it in hand without admiring the patient research and zeal of the author, although his theological and ecclesiastical sympathies are Calvinistic and presbyterian. This is a minor matter. The work is a storehouse of facts and information such as can nowhere else be found, and it is in every sense conscientious and faithful.
To sum up all. The present version of the Bible is a national blessing, and in spite of all the progress which has been made in science and learning, is a book which the Christian Church can use with confidence and profit. It attained its present shape and position after long and painful struggles. It has retained them through all changes. It never was more generally held in honour than now. But after all, it is a grave question, and one which cannot lightly be dismissed—whether our good old Bible could not and ought not to be revised.
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